Courtesy Steve Yingling, Western Nevada College
Sofia Valenzuela hasn’t been afraid of change and crossing gender norms during her college education.
Valenzuela started as a civil engineer major at the University of Nevada, Reno, then transferred to Western Nevada College to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Construction Management.
That pivotal decision has been life-changing for Valenzuela, providing her with a career path that truly excites her.
Graduation will be a historic day for Valenzuela and her family. On Monday, she will become the first person on either side of her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.
“Although it hasn’t always been easy (life has a sense of humor), I feel proud of myself for achieving my graduation goal,” Valenzuela said. “But in some way I know this means so much more for my mom, and having the opportunity to give this ‘gift’ to her is by far the biggest reward for me. Graduation, to me, means endless opportunities, continuous growth and a dream come true for both me and my mom.”
What prompted such a pronounced educational change for Valenzuela into an industry dominated by males, though there has been an upswing of women moving into the construction field recently? While serving as a public service intern for the Nevada Department of Transportation, Valenzuela became enamored with the construction industry.
“My first and last two rotations at NDOT were on Crew 911. I absolutely loved the crew/construction environment and my love for the construction industry just kept growing,” she said.
With only three semesters remaining to attain a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Valenzuela decided to act on this burgeoning passion and registered for an introductory construction class at WNC.
“I decided that I would take CONS 100 to give the program a shot, but true inspiration came from my teachers,” Valenzuela said. “Words cannot even begin to explain the impact (instructors) Nigel Harrison and Robert Ford have had not only in my education but also in my life. I am so grateful to have such amazing teachers that reassured my excitement for the construction industry. It is very hard to keep a positive mindset throughout college, so having a teacher that truly loves their job and inspires students to persevere (like mine do) is such a blessing.”
WNC has seen a recent influx of women in its bachelor’s program for Construction Management, according to Harrison.
“Females fill approximately 38 percent of the enrollment in the Construction Management program,” Harrison said. “About 1 1/2 years ago, female students really started becoming a greater presence in the classroom, and in turn, in the construction Industry. Sofia will be the first female student to earn the BAS in Construction and the first female student to earn a bachelor’s (degree) since I’ve been teaching.”
As for Valenzuela, she isn’t intimidated entering a profession dominated by males.
“I absolutely love the challenge,” she said. “As a woman, you do have to prove yourself a little more, but that just pushes me more to surpass my limits and comfort zones.
“People are always very surprised to hear that I work and study construction because they just don’t relate women to construction. I am so proud of my fellow female classmates; they are such an inspiration.”
Valenzuela has also been active proponent for the Construction Management program. She spoke about the program to a visiting Legislative Committee and through her work as Harrison’s teaching assistant, she promoted the program to high school students.
“My willingness and passion to help and be involved at WNC just really comes down to my love for the school the Construction Management faculty,” she said. “There is an incredible amount of pressure on high school students to go to college so for me being able to talk to them and encourage them (if I can do it, you most certainly can, too) is just so awesome because I just remember being in their shoes.”
Valenzuela’s switch in careers comes at an ideal time. Employment in the construction field is very promising right now. Indeed.com recently reported nearly 550 job openings in the construction field in the Reno area. Valenzuela has applied to a couple of construction companies and to NDOT, but she doesn’t want to make a hasty decision regarding the first step in her professional career.
“I am leaning toward internships to explore my options at different companies, but I am open to everything right now,” Valenzuela said. “I want to take my time and really find a company and job that I love.”
Through her own experiences, Valenzuela won’t hesitate to encourage other women to study Construction Management at WNC.
“If you end up failing, it’s another lesson learned,” she said. “I cannot even begin to count how many times I have failed and I am so thankful I stood up and kept going. Failure has such a negative reputation, which is so unfortunate. We become and grow and better ourselves into the people that we eventually become proud of, not through our success but through our failures.”